Afghan interpreters who aided US in danger of being left behind

Not to start your Sunday off on a sour note, but it appears that events are shaping up in a way which could create yet another problem in Afghanistan as we move toward what is projected to be our complete – or nearly complete- withdrawal from that nation. During our time there, a number of Afghan citizens who were sympathetic to our cause have provided their services as translators so our soldiers could more readily communicate with the locals. As you can imagine, this has made them less than popular with the Taliban and other forces hostile to the American presence.

There was supposed to be plan in place to get these translators out of the nation and back to the United States rather than leaving them in harm’s way. Unfortunately, we seem to be running out of visas.

The cases of thousands of Afghan interpreters who worked with the U.S. military and hope to relocate to the United States are in limbo because the government will soon run out of visas designated for the resettlement program, State Department officials said Thursday.

Worried about the welfare of linguists who are under threat for their affiliation with the U.S. government, State Department officials are asking Congress to allow the issuing of more visas during the remainder of the fiscal year and to extend the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, which is set to expire in September.

About 6,000 applicants are in the pipeline, including about 300 whose cases have reached the final stage of the process. Congress set a cap of 3,000 visas for 2014. The State Department expects to have issued that many visas within days, well ahead of the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The reasons provided by the State Department for this backlog are varied and frustrating, though in some cases understandable. Some seem blatantly political, such as a worry that there might be a brain drain in the country if we take many of their multilingual citizens out. Others are more reasonable, such as some of the translators being cited as potential security risks. The article also cites one official who infuriatingly makes that claim that the danger to the interpreters was not so dire.

I know that I’m not on the same page as many of you when it comes to our policy in Afghanistan going forward. I supported the mission there, and finally taking out OBL certainly lends a lot of weight to that position. But as far as I’m concerned, the mission is essentially over, we’ve hit a point of diminishing returns and I don’t see that nation turning into a flowering democracy no matter how long we stay. (Not to mention that there seems to be – yet again – a rather appalling lack of gratitude on the part of many of the key players.)

But assuming we’re going to leave, taking care of those locals who helped take care of us would seem to be the bare minimum that we could do. If there are some of them who can be shown to be Taliban collaborators and double agents, then we need to weed those out. But the ones who made an honest effort to help us and wish to exit the country safely certainly deserve a shot at freedom. The administration needs to get on the stick and tackle this problem before the clock runs out, as it has on so many other missed opportunities.